Operationalizing the role of the nurse ethicist: More than a job

Nursing Ethics 30 (5):688-700 (2023)
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Abstract

The idea of a role in nursing that includes expertise in ethics has been around for more than 30 years. Whether or not one subscribes to the idea that nursing ethics is separate and distinct from bioethics, nursing practice has much to contribute to the ethical practice of healthcare, and with the strong grounding in ethics and aspiration for social justice considerations in nursing, there is no wonder that the specific role of the nurse ethicist has emerged. Nurse ethicists, expert in nursing practice and the application of ethical theories and concepts, are well positioned to guide nurses through complex ethical challenges. However, there is limited discussion within the field regarding the specific job responsibilities that the nurse ethicist ought to have. The recent appearance of job postings with the title “nurse ethicist” suggest that some healthcare institutions have identified the value of a nurse in the practice of ethics and are actively recruiting. Discomfort about the possibility of others defining the role of the nurse ethicist inspired this paper (and special issue). If the nurse ethicist is to be seen as an integral part of addressing ethical dilemmas and ethical conflicts that arise in healthcare, then nurse ethicists ought to be at the forefront of defining this role. In this paper, we draw upon our own experiences as nurse ethicists in large academic healthcare systems to describe the essential elements that ought to be addressed in a job description for a nurse ethicist practicing in a clinical setting linked to academic programs. Drawing upon our experience and the literature, we describe how we perceive the nurse ethicist adds value to healthcare organizations and teams of professional ethicists.

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